Moving Back to Jamaica

A blog about my Move Back to Jamaica after 20+ years of living in the US. Most of the articles focus on the period from 2005-2009 when the transition was new, and at it's most challenging.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Moving Back to the Third World

After visiting South Africa last December (and especially after touring the Alexandria and Soweto Townships,) I am facing the fact that my Move back to Jamaica has a lot to do with moving from First World to Third.

In Johannesburg, it is possible to move from First to Third and back again at will, simply by driving a few miles down a highway, or by crossing a highway. The transformation is complete, entire and total -- almost like entering an airplane in one country and exiting via the ramp in another.

Everything was instantly different -- the buildings, the signage, the colour of the people, the poverty, the way the cars drove, the smells, the dust. I likened it to flying from Washington DC to Accra on a direct flight.

Moving Back to Jamaica is not very different.

Essentially a Move Back to Jamaica is not only an economic move from First World to Third, but a cultural move from the U.S./Canada/England (mostly Anglo-European countries) to an African-Anglo country.

As an economic move, Moving Back to Jamaica is like moving to live in any developing
country in the world. I have visited a few, and there are just ways in which life is conducted in the developing world (which happens to comprise the vast majority) that are quite common, and widespread.

From my unscientific and limited experience, I can expect the following when I visit a Third World country:
- people living in shacks, barely subsisting
- high crime
- income disparity
- bad roads and crazy driving
- corruption in the police force
- a lot of cheap goods being sold on the streets (most from the Far East)
- power cuts
- government bureaucracy and obstacles to doing business
- illiteracy
- rampant incompetence

Basically, anyone Moving Back to Jamaica from a First World Country must deal with all of the above elements. Although they might have existed in Miami, Toronto or London, here they will undoubtedly find them heightened here.

But this is no different from Moving Back to Lagos, Mumbai, Caracas or St. George.

Each country has its nuances, but the move from First World to Third is bound to be accompanied by a culture shock that comes with a radical adjustment.

Here, we like to say "only in Jamaica," when encountering some aspect of life that doesn't work as it should. However, the truth is that most of what we think is hard about life in Jamaica, is harder someplace else...

- Crime >> South Africa's murders, Colombia's internal strife. (And we still don't have the kidnappings that Trinidad has experienced)
- Poverty >> Haiti (we should be thanking our blessings)
- Corruption >> Nigeria (we are ranked at #61 out of #163 in our corruption index)
- Income Disparity >> Brazil (we are ranked with a score of 37 on a scale of countries with Gini coefficients ranging from 29 to 100)
- Literacy ->> Pakistan (our literacy rate puts us at #99 of 173)

The point is that we are quite an average Third World Country as these combined measures go (except for our exceptional murder rate.)

And we are definitely not a First World country.

Moving Back to Jamaica means accepting wholeheartedly that a move from First to Third World is difficult for anyone who expects the new country to be like the first. I have met people who have moved here to Jamaica and struggled to fit in, not because Jamaica is particularly difficult, but just because they are unwilling to accept the difference.

They dearly miss the shopping (Target! Marks and Spencer!), the roads (I-95!) and the security of living in a developed country, among other things.

The part that many seem to miss is the fact that when they leave the First World, to live in the Third, they are actually leaving the elite of humanity to join in the majority, and that the life lived in New York, Mississauga and Manchester is not typical of most people in the world live.

In fact, according to the website Causes of Poverty:
  • Half the world — nearly three billion people — live on less than two dollars a day
  • The GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of the poorest 48 nations (i.e. a quarter of the world’s countries) is less than the wealth of the world’s three richest people combined.
  • 20% of the population in the developed nations, consume 86% of the world’s goods.
  • A mere 12 percent of the world’s population uses 85 percent of its water, and these 12 percent do not live in the Third World.
The hard thing to face, for those of us who left Jamaica to live in the First World, is that we often become accustomed to the privilege of living in an the elite country, completely forgetting that we are enjoying a rare and unique privilege. Instead, we follow the crowd and take the wealth that is around us for granted, and come to expect it as some kind of norm.

The indignant cries that "you just can't buy good quality clothes anywhere on the island" from those who move to live in Jamaica, therefore sound to me like a complaint based in an ignorance of how most people in the world live, rather than in an inconvenience.

A move to live in Jamaica is bound to be a hardship unless the reality of world poverty is embraced, and the fact of First World privilege is acknowledged.

I'd recommend that, long before the Move Back to Jamaica occurs, a returnee should:
  • become acquainted with the statistics on world poverty
  • travel to other Third World countries
  • start to acquaint themselves with the depths of poverty in Jamaica
When I hear of people who have failed in their Move Back to Jamaica, to return to the their country, I often wonder... what did they expect?

A successful move relies on having the right kind of expectation, and being able to deal with the reality of life in this particular, not but so peculiar, poor country.

P.S. More on moving back to an African-Anglo country in another post.


At 4/13/2007 12:35 PM, Anonymous Keith said...

Very interesting observations.

At 4/16/2007 4:18 PM, Blogger Dennis Jones said...

I associate with much of what you say. As a Jamaican who was taken to England as a boy, then 30 years later moved the US for work, then for the past 3-4 years was posted in a west African country, I have seen the first and third world up close. I have also worked in many third world countries, while living in the first world. I have often said that Jamaicans and others in the Caribbean don't know how far from the bottom they are, though things may seem bad. I would say though that in general, Jamaica has more daily order in its affairs than Guinea, where I was based. It also has a good infrastructure in terms of electricity (if not completely water), which helps people in their struggle to make an economic life. Imaging living in a capital where most of the city is without constant electricity during the day or night.

I am now living in Barbados and have started blogging. I may borrow from some of your insights in my own blogging at

At 4/16/2007 4:45 PM, Blogger fwade said...


Thanks, and let us know when your blog is up and running


At 5/19/2007 3:55 PM, Anonymous common sense said...

Franics - you are so correct that conditions in Jamaica are not different from many other Third World countries, however we should aspire for better services etc and not accept mediocre or incompetent behavior (that goes for any leader including George B). As an example, there is corruption in both developed and developing countries. The difference is the developed countries can afford it and it's not always in your face (notable exceptions are Halliburton's "no bid contracts"). For Third World countries, corruption is scarce recources going to the pockets of a few. The big companies and local politicians know the game and play it well while the country sinks deeper in debt and does not progress.
I think there is so much focus on what does not work in Third World countries that we need to provide examples of what works well. Those who lament the bad in the Third World don't acknowledge the good precisely because human nature tends to complain or focus on the negative while missing the positives. So let's be fair and point out some of the positives in the Third World. Those who are well off live lifestyles comparable to First World and sometimes better. Climate and atmosphere are better than industrial cities. Health and food quality better (though health services are not great). While there may be financial stress in the Third World, work/social/ friendship stress are much better which is why some people never migrate if they are forced to work 9-9 jobs with little time for comraderie with friends. True, Third World people have little money, but they have time to enjoy a beer, joke about cricket or incompetent politicians and they don't believe in working past 5pm! As much as we think the school system is not great, Third World kids in the better schools have a better education than First World kids through high school level. Ask any Third World parent whose kids entered college in US and their kids are better educationally prepared. Their difficulty may be adjusting to a new society with different cultural and race norms (I'm speaking of kids educated in a good high school in Ja vs a kid in from a good high school in US). Crime is always bad in Third World and only better if you live in a good neighborhood in First World. Crime in First World ghettoes is just as bad as crime in Third World ghettoes! Those who complain about clothes quality in Third World go to Miami/ New York several times per year to purchase those items they can't find in Third World. So do the British who go to Miami for cheaper electronics as their pound is a better bargain in New York than London. It's all relative and depends on what lens you see the world. I have lived in both First and Third World and you can find positives and negatives in both worlds.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home